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Olivera's development key to Braves' offseason

In planning for 2016 roster, club banking on infielder's bat making future impact

Braves president of baseball operations John Hart, general manager John Coppolella, manager Fredi Gonzalez and their staff members gathered this week in Orlando, Fla., to discuss the potential makeup of their 2016 roster. But the direction of their offseason plans actually began taking shape on July 30, when they made the aggressive decision to acquire Hector Olivera from the Dodgers.

Time will tell whether it was wise to include both top prospect Jose Peraza and Alex Wood, a controllable and talented young left-handed starter, for the 30-year-old Olivera -- whose lack of Major League experience showed after he made his Major League debut on Sept. 1. At the time the deal was made, the Braves viewed it as their best opportunity to get an impact bat for next season and beyond.

"As we looked at the [upcoming] free-agent market, there weren't any real free-agent bats out there," Coppolella said. "I think you're going to see [Olivera] get better and better each year. His first year [in the United States] was tough for him. There were some things on the field and off the field."

Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes are among the top offensive players who will potentially be free agents this offseason. But each will come at a price that extends beyond the comfort zone of the Braves, who have multiple needs to address with the $25-30 million available. Thus, it was determined to take a chance on Olivera, who will draw an average annual salary of $6.4 million over the next five seasons.

"We had multiple, multiple looks at [Olivera]," Hart said. "Knowing the market, if this guy hits like he has before and is the guy that our guys said he is, then we ended up making a nice deal. We ended up getting a nice five- or six-hole hitter that we're going to control affordably, and we can add other pieces. That's the risk you take, because there is a level of unknown with the Cuban players that are out there."

Top international scout Gordon Blakeley and Gonzalez were among the members of the Braves' organization who traveled to the Dominican Republic last winter to get multiple looks at Olivera before the highly touted international prospect opted to sign with the Dodgers, who provided a six-year, $62.5 million deal that included a $28 million signing bonus.

The reasoning behind the Dodgers' decision to trade Olivera four months after completing this deal is of no concern to the Braves, who are simply hoping to see a more comfortable and seasoned Olivera more productive than he was in in the 24 games he played for Atlanta while batting .253 with a .715 OPS.

Over the past year, Olivera has had to adjust after his exit from Cuba separated him from the only family, friends and lifestyle he has known. His rise toward the Major League level was delayed by a hamstring injury that sidelined him most of this past summer, in the same stretch that he was dealing with the other change of scenery created by the trade to the Braves.

"It's a tough transition," Gonzalez said. "You sit here and listen to all of the stories of what he's had to go through. You could imagine if they did that to us, stick us in another country and say, 'Hey, go figure it out.' It really is tough. I think he has handled it pretty well."

To help make up for the time that was lost this year because of the hamstring injury, Olivera will spend six weeks this offseason playing in Puerto Rico. Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer plans to spend a month in Puerto Rico in an attempt to help expedite the talented third baseman's development.

"[Olivera's] makeup is good," Hart said. "He's a hard worker and he cares. He wants to do well. There is just a level of experience he doesn't have. We're going to force feed it, and see how far we can take this as we go through the year."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for
Read More: Atlanta Braves, Hector Olivera